Garden City said goodbye to a village fixture this week. Long time resident Harold Hecken Jr. died Monday after a long illness.
Those who knew him through years of volunteering or just as a friendly neighbor all agree: Mr. Hecken was a true Garden Cityite.
Friend and fellow Huntington Road resident Leo Stimmler said whether you met him at a social gathering or out walking his dog, Mr. Hecken always had time for you.
"He made you feel that there was no place else he’d rather be than talking to you about football, tennis, his dog, politics or whatever concern you were bringing to him. And he had such a calm demeanor that put you at ease," Stimmler said. "And boy did he work for his candidates. He would go door-to-door asking homeowners for a few minutes to tell them about why they should vote for Kemp Hannon or some other candidate he was supporting."
Stimmler recalled Mr. Hecken's devotion to family as well. "When the name Val came up in his conversation, he talked about her with such reverence and devotion, you knew — even if you had never met her — that he must be talking about his wife. What a remarkable man and what a great loss for his family and our village."
Mr. Hecken's sister-in-law, Audrey, who was married to Kenneth, Mr. Hecken's brother, was a Garden City High School classmate of Althea Robinson, long time executive director of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce.
"We were great friends through our kids and the early days of PTA," Robinson said. "My brother, who edited the EPOA newsletter for nine years, was friends with Hal, who served on the EPOA board. When Hal served as mayor, he was very helpful to me with various chamber concerns."
Robinson added: "Hal was not only one of our great Garden City mayors, but one who remained active and dedicated to village concerns and pursuits throughout the years right up to his illness, and in fact, beyond. He was a trooper and a true Garden Cityite."
Walter McKenna, immediate past president and current director of the Eastern Property Owners' Association (EPOA), who had the opportunity to serve with Mr. Hecken on the association's board, said his devotion to volunteerism was admirable.
Though he was only friends with him for a few years, McKenna said Mr. Hecken was many things: "First, a gentleman, second, a person of great knowledge who, at a moment’s notice, would take the time to speak to me on any subject, and third, a man whom we should all look up to as a dedicated and respected resident in our community ... In life there are but a few people that are remembered for the dedication they had for what was important to them — Mayor Hal Hecken will certainly be one on my list!"
Rob Alvey, founder of the Garden City Bird Sanctuary, said Mr. Hecken left another legacy most people don't realize. "When I was on the village's Environmental Advisory Board, Hal was instrumental in making sure that I set up a nonprofit organization to be sustainable, with appropriate bylaws, board, volunteers, etc., to manage the Garden City Bird Sanctuary," he said.
"Having this become known as the Tanners Pond Environmental Center is 'sump-thing' he would have liked."
Mr. Hecken is survived by his wife Valerie, son Philip and brother Kenneth. A private funeral took place this morning at Fairchild Sons Funeral Home on Franklin Avenue. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Salvation Army and the Little Shelter Animal Rescue in Huntington.